Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Applying "luo" to your journey

Making time to read is challenging for me. It requires commitment and discipline, and if I don’t read with a pen and notepad in hand, all is lost.

Recently, I’ve discovered that I’m not unusual. I’ve heard so many others talk about the ever-growing pile of books on their desk or bedside table.

But there’s value in plodding through the stack. Over the past few weeks, I’ve gained new insights about good practices, about how “givers” differ from “takers,” about how real impact comes with vulnerability, and finally, an understanding of a new Greek word: luo.

When I first encountered that word, I had no idea what it meant. So I looked it up, and Google told me this:

Luo: to “loose” a person (or thing) tied or fastened; to release from bonds.

We find the word “luo” used several times in the New Testament: to “loose the cords” when Lazarus is raised from the dead; to “loose hostility” in Ephesus; to describe freedom in Christ as a “loosening of our sins.” The “luo” offered by Christ sets us free from selfishness and fear.

You know where I’m taking this, of course.

Much like reading, biblical stewardship demands discipline and commitment. But it also demands “luo.” I must be loosed from my self-centered attitude and the bondage of “me first.” I must be released from the selfish notion that I deserve material things and a secure future, and instead find freedom in trusting God for continued abundance and grace.

A stewardship guided by both discipline and “luo” is not stewardship for my own sake. It’s not about seeing my name in lights. It’s not about personal gain. This kind of biblical stewardship is an act of worship.

In that context, it becomes clear that stewardship isn’t about duty or obligation (though these habits can lead us to better places). Rather, stewardship connects us to true joy, to the fulfillment of serving a greater purpose.

Today, let’s apply “luo” to our journeys and commit once again to a biblical stewardship of time and resources.  

Friday, February 13, 2015

Wholistic Stewardship

When I was a child, a favorite series of books for me was The Borrowers. This series followed little people living inside the homes of full-sized people and all the adventures that came with “borrowing things” and going unnoticed so as to keep their existence comfortable and safe.

I have been a “borrower” as of late, learning about extending grace and dignity to mistreated people groups during two conferences in January. First came the Gay Christian Network conference in Portland, Oregon, and then basking in the wisdom of Nick and Claire Wolterstorff during the Justice Conference in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Add to these experiences the opportunity to absorb the refreshing and inspiring presentation of Marva Dawn from her book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly during Calvin’s ReGathering celebration. (You may notice I am “borrowing” from Marva and adapting a bit for the title of this blog.)

As I grow in years, the quantity of my questions is also growing—rather than resolving. How does one conduct him/herself in such a way to keep stewardship wholly? Does justice have a role in our stewardship practices? Are my stewardship practices self-serving? Are they promoting dependency rather than dignity?

A previous post on this blog addresses the idea that all our resources are gifts from God in various stages of abundance—placed under our care for purposes of advancing the kingdom, holy expressions of worship while caring for the global community.

When I consider what it means to fully embrace stewardship, I consider the new understandings of justice and the more holistic approach needed to redeem injustice. These are corollary principles for stewardship.

The holistic approach to stewardship, much like the call to act justly, demands that we ask the hard questions about the social or political structures that are operating in our communities which often cause injustice, fear and dependency. Justice has a role in our stewardship practices in that we are to respect all of God’s creation and treat others with dignity. A holistic approach to stewardship calls me to manage all my resources such that basic needs are provided to others without creating a culture of dependency.

How much easier is it for us to check the charity box and feel satisfied we have given rather than to investigate and pursue matters of justice. We prefer to give a gift, and often even expect favors in return, than to think deeply about matters of justice. We prefer to not investigate too deeply for fear that social and/or political change might impact our personal, comfortable situations.

Let’s be courageous enough to ask: Am I willing to surrender any of my comforts for the opportunity to bring greater justice into our communities? Am I willing to surrender my privileges for another’s safety and dignity?

I think we believers might agree that the real challenge gets personal. The real questions get personal. The real growth gets personal. But it’s all for a global purpose.
Along the way, we can find encouragement in the fact that we are prompted in this questioning by a God who holds the answers.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Nozzle

Walk the neighborhoods in Southern California and discover the trees dying from an extended drought or be an eyewitness to flooding in the streets of Scottsdale, Arizona, or enjoy the wonderful frequency of rain in Michigan that waters the shrubs so that underground sprinkling need not operate. 

I find a metaphor here that helps any of us consider our hearts and attitudes in times of hardship, abundance or "just enough." In any of the above situations, there is opportunity to examine ourselves. 

What happens to my heart of stewardship when through my eyes, there aren't enough finances available to express gratefulness to God through offering or charitable contribution? When abundance comes through inheritance or salary increases, do I first consider how I can distribute God's abundance to me to others in need? Does complacency take over when a steady flow of income allows me to determine an amount each year and then just "let it flow" unconsciously and without hardship?   

Circumstances certainly have a way of influencing our hearts and responses. Thanking God for his abundance in all circumstances is a challenge to the depraved heart. 

Let's commit to not turning off the nozzle on the end of the hose of flowing resources regardless of the stream of abundance we humanly observe. God doesn't stop caring and providing even when you think you don't have enough. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tug of War

Participating in various physical and mental activities takes on many forms; from the physical intensity of tug of war to the mind bending strategy demanded in Game of Thrones. We start early with sports camps, music camps, wilderness vacations and exploring new places. The games we play, the places we travel and the books we read can all teach us stewardship lessons.

Take tug of war. How tight is your grip? How bad do you want to win? Who do you pick for your team mate? Someone with endurance or the short-termer with big muscles? One helps you win quickly, while the other helps you endure for the long haul.

When it comes to stewardship, we make a commitment in our heart to both enjoy God’s abundance and give from our resources to bring justice and healing to brokenness and pain; living out Micah 3 to walk humbly with our God and seek justice.

A recent reading of Jeff Manion’s book, Satisfied, helped me gain a stronger grip on stewardship. The day-to-day tug of war between being satisfied and comparing my situation to those who appear to “have it better” is wearing. My heart often crosses the line into discontent and selfishness.

But the knowledge of God’s great gift of salvation turns me to gratitude for His saving grace. Eliminating competitors for my heart demands commitment, endurance and a strong desire to keep God on my side of the rope—where His grip on me is made complete. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Stewardship Lessons from Zambia

A first glimpse into the neighborhoods near Lusaka, Zambia, the real beauty of the compounds goes unnoticed by my American eyes. The signs and smells of apparent poverty consume the senses. Careful to not assume or judge, I wanted to understand how – in this challenging setting – a person understands the concept of stewardship of God’s abundance.  My initial impressions of this neighborhood were false. This was not a place of limited resources and people who were both poor in spirit and lacking daily sustenance. 

My wondering mind tried to project; how does a person living in Kanyama view the scriptures that address first fruits for God? My American lens saw shortfall and great need. My American heart wondered how I would view my creator God if I spent every day in the compound of Kanyama. Getting out of the bus with fellow muzungu (white people) raised many more questions and reactions: “Why this experience, Lord?” “What do you have for me to learn today?” 

Time and reflection provided the refraction needed to consider these questions. 

Reading from the book of Hebrews during this trip provided some insight. In Heb. 10 we have insight; we are made holy, not by our sacrifices and offerings but through the body of Jesus on the cross.   John Calvin’s commentary describes “right stewardship” as that which is tested by the rule of love.  Check out 1 Sam 15: 22; the Lord delights in our obedient hearts. 

Repeated trips into Kanyama - with corrective lenses - revealed a culture that places people above time and tasks. Hospitality reigns in these homes.   Careful observation reveals children playing with sticks and old hubcaps, street vendors creatively displaying their crafts and colorful vegetables, and teachers who share their time and resources with their students and offer their wisdom and time to families who needed encouragement.  A community spirit thrives in Kanyama. Loving your neighbor, even the muzungus who dropped in now and then, seems a better understanding of stewardship and the rule of love described in Hebrews. 

The material riches of the people of Kanyama are shared in community to support family and neighbors alike. Enough for each day – enough for each child and neighbor – comes in ways not that unusual or surprising when the American “scales” fall off.

Stewardship lessons – whether in Zambia, Israel or America – are available to the awakening heart.
Stewardship is richer by far in the context of possessing a heart for God, His people, and gratefulness for God’s saving grace. Abundance is not found in resources alone, but in God’s unconditional love. Eyes to see God in others and hope in difficult settings; these contribute to a deeper understanding of stewardship.  

In gratefulness for my new friends in Zambia. Your hospitality and resourcefulness are a testimony of God’s love.  

Friday, April 11, 2014


 Here we are again—nearing the end of tax season. For many people, these final days leading up to submitting taxes is full of angst. We look over our income and investments, consider our charitable contributions and check tax records to make sure we are getting all our possible deductions. 

Tax season raises many questions for me. Did I give enough to charity this year? Is 10% of gross or net the real goal? Should I lower my standard of living and give the rest to non-profits who have real impact? Am I grateful for what taxes provide for me? Do I trust the system that operates all around me for how taxes are distributed? Are my elected officials using common sense?

For me so many questions do not have clear answers. At what point do I trust first and expect that common sense follows closely behind?

Are trust and common sense distant cousins, much like taxes and philanthropy? Is asking the right questions, at least during tax season, an opportunity to find the new normal for acknowledging God's abundance to me and thinking through best practices for supporting charities?

We know God clearly created humankind with hearts of compassion and minds for critical thinking. We are obligated by obedience to God to resolve these questions, as part of the process of God's sanctifying work in me and the world.

Tax season is complicated far beyond the question of “How much do I owe this year?” Let's continue talking, researching, voting appropriately and keeping stewardship a top value in our lives.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The situations around us—and what really matters


At first glance, it is a bit of an odd word—until you consider its etymology. First, take “stance,” meaning sense of position or place of feet. “Stance” points us, ultimately, to our situation. When combined with the prefix “circum,” we see how the full word refers to our “surrounding” situation.

As I gain a healthier biblical perspective about God's abundance to me, I've needed to make the transition from looking with judgment at other people’s situations to honestly looking at my own situation before God. I need to be on guard of the way my sinful nature has a tendency to look at other's circumstances and make a judgment call.

When comparing God's abundance to me verses those who appear to have so much more than me, my stance becomes jealous and creates an attitude I'm not proud of. Quite the opposite happens when I look at the circumstances of others who experience much less privilege than I do. Now I feel blessed—almost prideful—
and satisfied with my circumstances. My stance becomes a bit more entitled.  

Both stances are out of line with biblical mandate. God knows my heart, and He desires that I consider my stance before Him alone. My sacrifice of resources should not be about obligation or entitlement, but rather my heartfelt response of obedience and worship.

My circumstances, and yours, don't matter as much as the fact that God knows our hearts and He desires that we offer who we are and what we have fully to him. Furthermore, let’s remember that God's abundance flows to all, though circumstances vary greatly. 

My hope is that today we recognize that everything belongs to the Lord and gratefully manage His resources for the good of His kingdom.